According to Bible Gateway, certain passages had a significant increase for searching on the recent election week. James 1 saw the largest percentage increase with over 11,500% increase. This message series has been timely as the book of James teaches us many principles for living through pandemic problems.
We are facing at least 7 pandemic problems:
- Viral disease
- Social despair
- Economic deficit
- Racial division
- Political denigration
- Moral disregard
- Theological deficiency
Today, we are going to somewhat focus on that third issue: economic and financial deficit.
The pandemic has been devastating to small businesses and many families. While our pre-covid economy saw record growth, it was still built upon a faulty foundation. Our nation is over 27 trillion dollars in debt; that’s 27 with 12 zeros. Just writing the number makes your hand hurt!
Arrogance, greed, selfishness are all the root factors financial woes. The Bible says, “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). We know that wealth is morally neutral, but the human heart is desperately wicked (Jer 17:9). So, the way we manage money is undoubtedly an indicator of our faith and discipleship.
The reality is, possessing money doesn’t make us good at managing it. We must have a framework for overseeing our finances. James is nearing the end of his letter and has reached the height of his criticism. He’s challenged Christians in many areas about faith, and now he addresses people in general who are mastered by their money. Essentially, there are two ways to approach money: 1) We can worship our wealth, or 2) We can worship with our wealth. James is rebuking the former.
In today’s passage will uncover 2 pitfalls of wealth with 2 prescriptions for allowing our wealth to have an eternal impact.
EXAMINE James 5:1-12 Where is my influence?
1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.
2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.
3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.
4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.
8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
Wealth can make us conceited.
There are several indicators of a person’s wealth: material possessions, nice clothes, bank account. James identifies what happens when we worship our wealth…
- Your possessions rust and rot.
- Your garments wear out and are moth-eaten.
- Your gold and silver have get spent away and spoil.
- When a rich person dies, many ask, “How much did they leave to _____ (family, charity, etc.)?” The answer they leave it all. All of it gets left behind to someone else to spend, because we cannot take gold beyond the grave.
James chastises those who worship their wealth as those who have a false hope. Their wealth will evidence against them that they spent on what does not store treasure in heaven.
- Have you ever considered that your purchases will speak for or against you in eternity?
- What do your purchases say about your priorities?
We must be careful to not allow money to make us prideful and think we have no need of God. If we are honest, money has a way of making us feel safe and protected from the storms of life. But if you look around during a pandemic – everyone is facing this crisis. Money cannot fully protect us from sickness, disease, or certainly death.
Some verses reminding us money cannot purchase God’s mercy:
Ecclesiastes 5:10 “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”
Proverbs 11:4 “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”
Mark 10:17-22 The rich young ruler left Jesus disheartened because he valued riches more than relationship with God.
- How can we guard against conceit from wealth? The key is to transition our perspective from ownership to stewardship. Make a commitment to place God at the forefront of your budget.
– – > Illus: There’s a story about mother who gave her little daughter $2 one blustery and windy Sunday monring. The mom said, “Darling, one dollar is for when we go to church to place in the offering, and the other dollar is for you when we stop after church at the candy store. The little girl went outside and the leaves swirled under her pretty dress. The wind blew so hard that one of the dollars flew away from the little girl’s hand. Immediately she said, “Well God, there goes your dollar!”
Too often we view money with selfish motives; or when we have to cut budget, God gets subtracted first.
|I belong to no one. God is not in charge of me.|
If there is a God, then he exists to ensure my happiness.
|I belong to God.|
|I own my stuff.||I am a steward of what belongs to the Lord.|
|I deserve what I have and what I want.||I am grateful for all of God’s gifts and blessings.|
|I am accountable only to myself.||I am accountable to God for my life, my time, my talent, and my treasure.|
In life, we have nothing apart from God’s provision (Ps 16:2). He is the Creator and Owner of all things, with us as His tenants and beneficiaries.
- The land is Mine and you are but aliens and My tenants” (Lev. 25:23).
- Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.” (1 Chron. 29:11-12).
- Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11).
- The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Ps. 24:1-2).
- For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it” (Ps. 50:10-12).
- The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Hag. 2:8).
Wealth can make us callous.
James describes a shortfall of the wealthy as callous. They’re callous because of greed, fraud, and hoarding. The wealthy landowners hired servants to labor and harvest in their fields, but they cheated them by not paying them. The landowners were not just keeping their money, in essence they were stealing what belonged to the servants. The servants trusted the landowners and gave their full effort and days work, but at the end of their work they were left exhausted, empty, and hungry.
We’ve all seen this story hundreds of times – where the wealthy have all the advantages. They can hire the best lawyers to craft the most persuasive arguments. They can pay off witnesses and judges to get the verdict they want. They can hire public relations and news to promote their good and hide their wrongdoing. The truth is toppled, and integrity is undermined… But God sees, hears, and promises to respond.
- This went against God’s law (cf. Lev 19:13; Deut 24:14-15; Mic 6:8). The language of “crying out against you” echoes not only servant/employee laws of the OT, but also of Abel’s blood crying out to God for justice after being murdered by his brother Cain (Gen 4:10; also Rev 6:9-11). What the ungodly rich do in private and without danger of earthly prosecution is not hidden from God. James connects the cries of the workers to the ears of the “Lord of hosts” – a military term to remind us God will defend the cause of His name and children.
- Also why Jesus’s parable of a landowner who hired servants at multiple intervals of the day but paid all the same amount was extraordinary gracious (Mt 20:1-16).
James further describes the wealthy as those who lived in luxury and self-indulgence. The wording suggests unnecessary surplus and wastefulness. James also gives a word picture of feeding or fattening yourself before the day of slaughter. It’s like a farmer who feeds a cow or pig to increase their growth, the animal eats without restraint. The animal has indulged not realizing the fattest will suffer slaughter. Likewise, you might remember the words of Jesus’s parable, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony” (Lk 16:25).
Wealth can not only make us conceited but callous. We can grow selfish to continue spending on ourselves while blind to the burdens, needs, and problems of the world. In fact, this critique was not new in the first century, but was an ongoing condemnation from the Lord against Israel.
- Amos 2:6- “For these transgressions of Israel I will not revoke the punishment: because they sell the needy for a pair of sandals, they trample the head of the poor and turn aside the afflicted”
- Isaiah 58:6-7 “Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
- Proverbs 22:16 “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.”
- Proverbs 22:22-23 “Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.”
James says their callousness is actually condemning and murdering the righteous person (5:6). While this is likely speaking of God’s favor toward the humble poor, it is also a slight reference about our sin crucifying and murdering Jesus – the righteous one.
Jesus did not resist the conceited, callous, and cruel punishments of the unrighteous Roman government powers.
- When men plotted against Jesus, He prayed and trusted the Father.
- When men twisted Jesus’s words, He continued speaking truth.
- When they cursed, punched, and scourged Jesus, He turned the other cheek and did not retaliate.
- When they drove nails in His hands and a spear in His side, Jesus forgave them.
- Christians avoid becoming callous by focusing on the cross and God’s love for sinners and strugglers.
James gives a few prescriptions to avoid the pitfalls of wealth.
Faith should make us patiently content.
Contentment means we do not have to impulse buy and we have the coming of the Lord in our perspective. We are patient. We trust God to provide for our needs on earth and believe when Jesus returns we will be blessed far beyond our needs.
James says, “establish your hearts… [and] do not grumble” (5:8-9). He’s calling us to rest in the strong and sustaining presence in the face of problems, pains, and pandemics. The coming of the Lord is at hand – the nearness of Christ’s return is ever more true, real, and fresh than when Jesus promised over 2K years ago. While we may be tempted to dismiss or doubt the return of Christ because of the length of time between the promise and the reality, we should persevere all the more because we’ve seen God’s faithfulness.
Again, James illustrates our patience as a farmer waiting for the precious fruit of the earth. The idea is that we work wholeheartedly but trust God to control the outcome.
- Christians grow in contentment with the discipline of gratitude. Giving thanks from sun up to sun down teaches us that we are stewards and not owners, and to be mindful how fragile life is and not take anything for granted.
- Proverbs 30:8-9 “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”
Faith should make us committed.
Last, James calls us to consider those blessed who remain steadfast. He points us to follow the example of Job. Job was a person in the OT Scriptures who endures multiple trials but remained faithful to God. Job understood he was not entitled or an owner to anything on earth, and for that God was compassionate and merciful at the end of his life.
Friends, what helps us to be patient and persevere? It’s God’s word and God’s people. As James called Christians to consider the OT Scripture with Job, he also calls us to grow in community with others – “let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.
Christians, we should be thankful to learn and grow with technology, but God’s means of grace is often through an imperfect community and our nearest neighbors. We will never experience all that God intends until we commit to growing in God’s word and with God’s people. The more we isolate from Scripture and church, the more we will struggle and be susceptible to the pitfalls of wealth and the world.
Where’s your influence?
- The only thing you can take with you beyond the grave is people. Invest in heaven’s bank account by influencing people for Jesus.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,
20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
 Moo, D. J. (2000). Pillar NT Commentary: James 5:6.